U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence officials, including 12 members of the mission to the United Nations. Trump also ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.
In a White House statement, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, “The United States takes this action in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world.”
Several other nations, including Canada, Germany, France, and Ukraine, also announced they were expelling Russian diplomats.
The coordinated move followed the U.K.’s expulsion of 23 diplomats over the March 4 poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury. British investigators determined a Russian nerve agent was used and blamed Moscow for ordering the attack. Russia denies any involvement. The Skripals remain hospitalized in critical condition.
The White House said the move was prompted, too, by concerns over Russian spying.
“Today’s actions make the United States safer by reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security,” said Sanders.
Washington gave the 60 Russian officials and their families one week to leave the U.S.
Senior administration officials said the Seattle consulate had the highest concentration of Russian operatives. They also said the a large number of operatives had been collecting information about a U.S. military base, but would not specify which base they were monitoring, and if that base was in close proximity to Seattle.
The White House said Monday’s decision was not meant to send a message to any other country other than Russia and its leaders.
A Senior administration official said Trump had not spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin since last Tuesday, when he congratulated him on winning the Russian election.
Senior administration officials said there are currently more than 100 Russian intelligence operatives working in the U.S. The round of expulsions would take that number down to at least 40. The White House said it reserves the right to respond to any Russian retaliation to Monday’s decision.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted that “Today’s extraordinary international response by our allies stands in history as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever and will help defend our shared security.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May said the coordinated measures “clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to Russia that it cannot continue to flout international law”.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the actions a “provocative gesture” and promised to respond.
The response will be symmetrical. We will work on it in the coming days and will respond to every country in turn,” the RIA news agency cited an unnamed Foreign Ministry source as saying.
Story with information from Reuters